Frog Pendant, Tairona, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, 1000–1500 CE
Tumbaga (gold and copper alloy), 1/2 x 7/8 x 1 inches (1.3 x 2.2 x 2.5 cm)
Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, Miami Dade College, MDC PC 2022.1.94
This small frog pendant comes from the Tairona culture of Colombia and demonstrates some of the range of metallurgical techniques used by the ancient peoples of the Americas to create lifelike objects that may have served a variety of purposes. Here, the body of the frog is cast and joined to the pendant's loops by welding. Tumbaga is an alloy composed mostly of gold and copper. It has a significantly lower melting point than either metal alone and is thus easier to work using various metalworking processes.
The collection at the Kislak Center has fourteen such ornaments. They may have served as pendants used as decorative details on clothing and may have held small beads that would rattle or jingle like bells.
Frogs announce the rains with their croaking choruses and may symbolize rebirth and the cycles of life—as they progress through stages from tadpoles to frogs. For the Tairona people, metalworking often reflected a belief in the soul's ability to transform into other forms and was a symbol of power, including the power of the animal depicted. The frog also represents fertility, wealth, and abundance. Their connotation of fertility is strengthened by the fact that frogs and toads lay thousands of eggs.
The frog served as an important symbol across the indigenous American cultures. Among the Maya, for example, frogs are shown as the rain god Chac's musicians. One frog, which the Maya called the uo, was thought to come from the sky with green corn grains in its intestines. The uo was probably Rhinophrynus, which breeds only during heavy rains. The name uo represents the sound of the frog's call. Uo is also the name of the Mayan month of greatest rainfall.
Photos by Lynton Gardiner. © Kislak Center at MDC.